Saturday, December 26, 2015

Weathering Phosphorus-Rich Rocks at Gusev Crater, Mars Might Have Protected Life From Mars' Acidic Waters

Weathering Profiles in Phosphorus-Rich Rocks at Gusev Crater, Mars, Suggest Dissolution of Phosphate Minerals into Potentially Habitable Near-Neutral Waters


Adcock et al


Abundant evidence indicates that significant surface and near-surface liquid water has existed on Mars in the past. Evaluating the potential for habitable environments on Mars requires an understanding of the chemical and physical conditions that prevailed in such aqueous environments. Among the geological features that may hold evidence of past environmental conditions on Mars are weathering profiles, such as those in the phosphorus-rich Wishstone-class rocks in Gusev Crater. The weathering profiles in these rocks indicate that a Ca-phosphate mineral has been lost during past aqueous interactions. The high phosphorus content of these rocks and potential release of phosphorus during aqueous interactions also make them of astrobiological interest, as phosphorus is among the elements required for all known life. In this work, we used Mars mission data, laboratory-derived kinetic and thermodynamic data, and data from terrestrial analogues, including phosphorus-rich basalts from Idaho, to model a conceptualized Wishstone-class rock using the reactive transport code CrunchFlow. Modeling results most consistent with the weathering profiles in Wishstone-class rocks suggest a combination of chemical and physical erosion and past aqueous interactions with near-neutral waters. The modeling results also indicate that multiple Ca-phosphate minerals are likely in Wishstone-class rocks, consistent with observations of martian meteorites. These findings suggest that Gusev Crater experienced a near-neutral phosphate-bearing aqueous environment that may have been conducive to life on Mars in the past.

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